Tag Archives: Coimbra

Portugal – Mafra and World Heritage Sites

Taking a break from the beaches we took a short ride to the nearby city of Mafra which is an unremarkable sort of place except for a very good cake shop and the magnificent Royal Palace which is enormous and can be seen from several miles away. The palace is huge and  covers an area of almost two and a half square miles and has one thousand two hundred rooms.

It is part Palace, part Cathedral and part Convent and is one of the fourteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Portugal.

It is the biggest Royal Palace in Portugal and  makes it even more famous is that the last King of Portugal, Manuel II spent his last night in Portugal at the Palace after being deposed in October 1910.  He escaped the next day by Royal Yacht from Ericeira and lived the remainder of his life in exile in England, in Twickenham.

I am guessing that the lady with no bra on is the Portuguese equivalent of the French Madame Liberty…

I am afraid that I am quite unable to explain why Republican icon Madame Liberty has no clothes on. It is an interesting fact however that when the French built the Statue of Liberty for the USA they made sure that she was more discreetly attired so as not to offend New World sensibilities.

There is nothing else to tell you about Mafra or Madame Liberty.  So… 

Just like Brooke Bond Tea Cards I am a collector of World Heritage Site visits, if there is one close by then I just have to go.  Here are some more that I have been to in Portugal…

Coimbra

Built in the eighteenth century, the University is a National Monument and has priceless historical value being the main tourist attraction in Coimbra.  The building has three floors and contains about two hundred and fifty thousand volumes and being someone who loves books this place is a little bit of heaven.  The collection dates from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries and represents the finest works from Europe at the time on the subjects of medicine, geography, history, science, law, philosophy and theology.

Tomar

Tomar is one of the most historically important cities in all of Portugal with a history that stretches back to the Romans and probably even before that.   Fast forward a thousand years and after the capture of the region from the Moors in the Portuguese Reconquista, the land was granted in 1159 to the Order of the Knights Templar. In 1160, the Grand Master in Portugal, Gualdim Pais, laid the first stone of the Castle and Monastery that would become the headquarters of the Order in Portugal and from here they pledged to defend Portugal from any subsequent Moorish attacks and raids

Elvas

Turns out is the biggest fortified town not only in Portugal but all of Europe. Inside the fortress town we walked through the ancient whitewashed streets, cobbled streets which were painful to negotiate in tourist sandals.  Along narrow passages lined by houses with blistered wooden doors,  Shutters thrown back like the wings of butterflies basking in the midday sunshine.  Sagging washing lines groaning under the weight of the dripping laundry.  The rich aroma of lunch time cooking seeping out from open windows.  Outside of the front doors pots of flowers in various stages of bloom and decay.

Guimarães

As the first capital of Portugal, Guimarães is known as the place where the country was born – ‘The Cradle City’.  In 1095 Count Henry of Burgundy, who had married princess Teresa of León, established in Guimarães the second County of Portugal and on July 25th 1109 Afonso Henriques, son of Count Henry of Burgundy, was born here and it was where Duke Afonso Henriques proclaimed Portuguese independence from the Kingdom of León, after the Battle of São Mamede in 1128, declaring himself to be Afonso I, King of Portugal.

Evora

Évora is an interesting city and has a busy history.  The Romans conquered it in 57 BC and built the first walled town.  During the barbarian invasions Évora came under the rule of the Visigothic king Leovigild in 584.  In 715, the city was conquered by the Moors and during this period the town slowly began to prosper and developed into an agricultural centre with a fortress and a mosque.

Évora was captured from the Moors through a surprise attack by Gerald the Fearless (what a fabulous name) in 1165 and the city came under the rule of the Portuguese king Afonso I in 1166 and then for a few hundred years or so it then flourished as one of the most dynamic cities in the Kingdom of Portugal.

The River Duoro

At five hundred and sixty miles long  the Douro is the eighth longest river in Western Europe (the eighteenth in all of Europe) and flows first through Spain and then Portugal and meets the Atlantic Ocean at Porto.  This part of the Douro Valley, and for about sixty miles towards Spain, has a microclimate allowing for cultivation of olives, almonds, and especially the grapes and the hillsides are scattered with picturesque quintas or farms clinging on to almost every improbable vertical slope dropping down to the river where tourist boats were making the daily return trip to Porto.

Bom Jesus do Monte

Many hilltops in Portugal have been places of religious devotion and the Bom Jesus hill was one of these. It was an ancient site where in 1629 a pilgrimage church was built dedicated to the Bom Jesus (Good Jesus), with six chapels dedicated to the Passion of Christ.  The present Sanctuary was begun in 1722, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Braga, Rodrigo de Moura Telles and under his direction the first stairway row, with chapels dedicated to the Via Crucis, were completed.  He also sponsored the next segment of stairways, which has a zigzag shape and is dedicated to the Five Senses of Sight, Smell, Hearing, Touch and Taste and each is represented by a different fountain.

Porto

The historical centre of Porto is a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site and we were now approaching one of the six bridges across the River Douro, the Ponte Dom Luis I, which is an iron bridge designed by a student of Gustav Eiffel and built on two levels. From the top elevation there were unbeatable views of the river, the old town and Vila Nova de Gaia, a sister city on the other side of the river. 

I will tell you about Sintra and Lisbon in later posts, the three that I haven’t got around to yet are the Coa Valley, Batalhia and Alcobaca.  Watch this space.

More from Mafra…

Portugal – Pre-travel research and the Queen’s Funeral

We generally take our main annual holiday in September. Sometimes we go to the sea, usually the Greek Islands which are our favourite and sometimes we travel.  This year we decided to travel and we chose to go to Portugal.

There are organised guided tours available for this sort of thing but we prefer to make our own arrangements and not be restricted by a holiday company schedule and inevitable stops at shopping centres and outlet factories that suit the Company but not the Traveller.

Where exactly should we go this time we debated.  We had previously been to the Algarve in the South, Porto and the Douro and north of the Algarve to the Alentejo.  Eventually we agreed on the greater Lisbon area with stays in Obidos, Ericeira, Cascais,  Setúbal and the city of Lisbon itself.

In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try and understand the country that I was visiting.

I started as usual with the Human Development Index which ranks countries by level of ‘human development’ and the statistic is composed amongst other criteria from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income. Portugal is ranked forty-first which is quite low, especially for Europe but it is improving and is up two places from the previous year.

Although it is in Western Europe (in fact it is the most western mainland European country) Portugal did not begin to catch up with its neighbours until 1968 after the death of the dictator António Salazar, the Left Wing Carnation Revolution of 1972 and eventual entry into the European Community in 1986.

Unhappily, the European economic crisis has had a negative effect on Portugal’s position in the Europe Happiness Index and it is rated at only fifteenth out of thirty which is one place behind the United Kingdom.  Finland is the happiest and Albania (no real surprise) the least jolly.

The Country has fifteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites and we had previously visited ten of them and intended to add to this total this time.

Portugal is famous for its Atlantic beaches which stretch for one thousand, one hundred and fifteen miles and along this coastline are three hundred Blue Flag Beaches which is the fifth highest amongst all participating countries but looking at the statistics in a different way they get even better and dividing length of coastline by number of beaches, Portugal is way out in front and storms into first place with one proud blue flag flapping away every three and three-quarter miles or so.

When it comes to wine,  screw caps have all but completely replaced the cork. Interestingly 35% of the World’s cork forests and 50% of World supply comes from Portugal so there, for the time being the cork stopper still reigns supreme.

My next measure is always the Eurovision Song Contest and Portugal has participated in the annual contest forty-nine times since its debut in the 1964.  Up until recently the country held the unfortunate record for the most appearances in the contest without a win but they put that right in 2017 when they won in Kiev with Salvador Sobral’s entry, “Amar Pelos Dois”.

In my research I have discovered some more impressive statistics: Portugal is ranked third in the Global Peace Index, just behind Iceland and New Zealand.  The index gauges global peace using three measures – the level of safety and security in society, the extent of domestic and international conflict and the degree of militarisation. Portugal for example was one of only a few European countries that escaped involvement in the Second-World-War, the others were Spain, Switzerland (only in theory of course because they did a lot of Nazi banking and gold trading), Sweden and The Republic of Ireland.

On the subject or war and peace, the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance (Aliança Inglesa) ratified at the Treaty of Windsor in 1386, between England and Portugal, is the oldest alliance in the world that is still in force – with an even earlier treaty dating back to the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1373.  England and Portugal have never been on opposite sides in any military conflict which is a very impressive statistic when you consider that in that time England (UK) has at one time or another been at war at some time or another with almost every other European country.

It was the day of the Queen’s funeral the day that we flew out which was rather a shame as we would have liked to have watched it on TV.  The airport was unusual, solemn, subdued and rather eerie actually, much more polite than normal.  Shops and restaurants closed for the duration, big screens showing the ceremony without commentary or sound .  The two minutes silence almost completely observed except for one young man taking a phone call until obliged to end it quickly on account of the disapproval of those around him.

There was a one hour delay before departure which was not bad under the circumstances.

The plane landed at Humberto Delgardo Airport, named after a lliberal politician who challenged the dictator Salazar and was assassinated for his trouble.  I am always interested in the naming of airports.  Porto in Portugal is named after another politician, Francisco Sá Carneiro, who died in a plane crash and I have always thought that to be curiously inappropriate.

A to Z of Cathedrals – C is for Coimbra in Portugal

When thinking about C I was tempted to go for Cordoba and also the rather strange unfinished Cathedral in Cuenca.  Both in Spain of course.  I could have gone to Coventry in UK but I haven’t got any pictures of Coventry  Cathedral so after much deliberation I chose instead to go to Coimbra in Portugal…

In Europe, most cathedrals are reconstructions of older cathedrals which were rendered obsolete by their size, condition or style.  There are, however, cases where the city authorities did not want to destroy their old cathedral, and decided instead to build a second one.

Coimbra is a city with two Cathedrals.

The old cathedral of Coimbra was built between 1146 and 1218 and is one of the most important Romanesque buildings in Portugal.   In 1772, after the expulsion of the Jesuits, the title of cathedral was transferred to the Jesuit church, now the New Cathedral of Coimbra. This church was originally built by the Jesuits in the 16th century next to the famous University of Coimbra.

Read The Full Story Here…

Other Cities with two Cathedrals include Brescia in Italy, Salamanca and Lleida in Spain, and Marseilles in France.

Some might expect Barcelona to be on that list but Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia is only a minor basilica and the Roman Catholic Church points out that two hundred years ago  Barcelona already had a rather splendid Cathedral and no one actually asked Gaudi to build another.

A to Z of Balconies – Furadouro in Portugal

The next stage in our journey was to the beach resort of Furadouro and we took the train from Coimbra to Ovar.

On arrival needed to travel about three miles west to the seaside town and rather unsure and completely disorientated we broke our no taxi rule for a second time in four days and hitched a ride to our hotel, the Furadouro Spa.

The taxi dropped us off outside reception and we went inside to register where on account of a nippy wind coming in off the sea the staff were in thick jackets and expressed surprise that we were wearing our summer clothes when, in their opinion, it was so cold. We explained about being from England and living on the North Sea East Coast.

After we had approved our accommodation and settled in, good but not as good as the last three in Lisbon, Tomar and Coimbra we stepped outside to take a look at Furadouro. This didn’t take very long, but we found a restaurant that caught our eye for later on and a nice pavement bar to have a beer and then we made our way to the seafront.

There was a strong wind blowing, towering Atlantic breakers and red flags flapping furiously, rather unnecessary in my opinion because only a crazy person would go into a sea as mad as that. Only half crazy we went into the sea but only up to our ankles with an occasional waist high splash and we walked the beach for about two miles or so.

Later we found a back street fish restaurant overflowing with local people so on the basis that this is always a good sign we requested a table We were having a lot of bad luck with restaurant closures in Portugal that was for sure!
and had a first class meal for a very reasonable price and we agreed, as we always do, that we would come back tomorrow. On the way out we attempted to book a table but the waiter told us they were closed now for an end of summer vacation.

The plan for our three days at the seaside in Furadouro was to take a break from travelling and the trains, the drag-bags and the packing and unpacking and to spend some time relaxing on the beach.

Unfortunately our plan was scuppered by the weather because when we woke the next day there was a thick sea mist which would have challenged anything that the North Sea can throw at us back home.

Trying as best we could to be optimistic about the situation we hoped that it would be blown away by the time we had finished breakfast but it was still there like a damp shroud when we left the hotel and ventured onto the streets.
The wind was raging and wild, someone told me later that it was something to do with Hurricane Irma on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and that may have been true, but then again maybe not.

As we walked along the seafront Kim continually complained about how cold it was and although I disagreed with her I have to retrospectively confess that secretly I was rather cold myself. Naturally I just shivered in silence but didn’t share this information.

There was a scything wind ripping in off the sea like the grim reaper, a dangerously high surf and a churning ocean like horses of the Camargue making a charge out of the rolling, twisting waves that relentlessly barreled and pounded the gritty shoreline.

By mid morning it was getting even worse so we finally admitted defeat, took our swimming costumes and towels back to the hotel and tried to think of some alternative entertainment for the day.

The wind continued to buffet the seafront promenade as we walked back to the hotel, it carried on howling throughout the night and it was still blowing a gale in the morning when we left the hotel after breakfast.

 

Thursday Doors, Portugal

Portugal Doors 1

If you like these doors from Portugal, there are a few more here…

Portugal, Doors

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Portugal, The End of the Journey

Portugal 2017

So our travels were over.  We had not had a train journey holiday since 2013 in Puglia in the south of Italy so it was good to get back on the tracks!

We flew into Lisbon and spent four days in the capital city, it was oppressively hot but we enjoyed it all the same.

If I was to do anything different I would have visited Belém rather than Sintra.  Sintra is just too commercial and touristy.

After Lisbon we headed north out of the city to our next stop at the city of Tomar. Here is a top tip, buy train tickets in advance because at peak times it is a nightmare using the automated machines and you have to allow at least thirty minutes to shuffle tediously along the line.

Apart from the ticketing system the trains in Portugal are punctual and efficient and our planned itinerary was a complete success.

If you are planning travels through Portugal be sure not to miss out Tomar and maybe find some time for the nearby pilgrimage site of Fatima but that is a bit difficult without a car.

After Tomar the train took us to Coimbra, maybe the third largest city in Portugal or maybe not (Braga also makes this claim). A good place to visit, two or three days is just about right.

And then to the city of Ovar and the nearby seaside resort of Furadouro. Ovar is not really on the main tourist trail but it certainly gets my recommendation for a visit especially if you are lucky enough to bag a place on the Ceramic Trail Tour.

Kim in Portugal

Next to Portugal’s second city Porto which is a must visit city on a holiday such as this except that we had been there twice before so it felt as though we were just going over old ground. We wished instead that we had stayed in Aveiro as an alternative stopover.

If you are tempted to do this journey then be sure to do them both!

Leaving Porto we took the train to our final destination at Vila do Conde from where we hired a car and visited the cities of Guimarães and Braga, two more must visit places.

We had a wonderful time in Portugal and would certainly do it again.  Not my first visit and almost certainly not my last.  I went to the Algarve in 1986, 1987 and 1994 which is a long time ago so I really need to go back.  In 2009 I visited Northern Portugal and fell in love with the people, the towns, the beaches and the food.  If there is anything like a certainty in life then I will return to Portugal.

On the final morning we woke early and prepared to leave Vila do Conde.  We risked indigestion and snatched a hasty  breakfast and then made our way to the metro station for the final time and took the tram to the Airport.  Francisco de Sá Carneiro Airport is just outside of the city.  Interestingly, Francisco de Sá Carneiro was for a short time the Prime Minister of Portugal in 1980 and some people have questioned the appropriateness of naming an airport after someone who died in a plane crash!

Anyway, we didn’t concern ourselves with that, just wasted away the waiting time and reflected fondly on our very successful 2017 visit to Portugal.

Algarve

My next few posts will be a return to the island of Malta…

Portugal, Postcards

Portugal Tiles PostcardVila do Conde PostcardPORTUGAL lisbon 2014-04-30 001Coimbra PostcardFatima Portugal

If you like postcards of Portugal here are some more from the Algarve

Portugal, Rustic Doors

Coimbra Door 1Coimbra Door 2

Portugal, Doors

Portugal Doors 3Portugal Doors 2Portugal Doors 1

If you like the doors then you may be interested in some more from a post in July 2014…

Doors of Portugal

Portugal, Coimbra to Furadouro

Coimbra Postcard

When we woke in the morning, instead of the blue skies that we had become accustomed to there was a thick mist over the river and the city and it didn’t look like clearing away any time soon.

We had planned to have a final hour exploring the streets of Coimbra but after a second excellent Hotel IBIS breakfast the mist had become a fog so we made breakfast last a while longer, waited around for half an hour or so and then made our way to the railway station and waited for the train to Aveiro.

The plan now was to spend a few days at the coast, relax and to take a break from the city visits.

The train was on time and it didn’t take long to get there and as we crossed a spur of the River Boca and looked out towards the lagoons and the Atlantic Ocean we could have been forgiven for thinking we had been transported to Venice because the city has a very Italianate architecture and a waterway full of Gondolas.

Not surprising then that Aveiro is sometimes called the Venice of Portugal.

Aviero Postcard

Other places have their own associations with Venice – London and Birmingham in England are two examples as are Amsterdam in the Netherlands, St Petersburg in Russia, Prague in the Czech Republic and Edinburgh in Scotland who are all sometimes called the ‘Venice of the North’.  There is a Little Venice in Michigan USA and another in Bavaria in Germany, there is a casino in Las Vegas designed as Venetian canals and there is even one entire country that is called ‘Little Venice’.

The name ‘Venezuela’ is believed to have originated from the Italian explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci who led a 1499 naval expedition along the northwestern coast of South America.  When he landed he saw people living in houses on stilts and using boats that were shaped like gondolas. He thought that the country resembled Venice so he named it Venezuela, which means ‘Little Venice’.  That’s a bit odd I suppose when you consider that Venezuela is nearly two thousand three hundred times bigger than Venice itself!

We thought that we might like to stop a while and explore Aveiro but there wasn’t really time because we had a train connection to make and needed to dash to the Porto Metro line for the train to the nearby city of Ovar.

On first impression we weren’t quite sure what to make of Ovar, it seemed like the end of the World, almost like that scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when they first get off the train in Bolivia and wondered why they had gone there.

Furadouro Stone Fishes

We needed to travel about three miles west to the seaside town of Furadouro and rather unsure and completely disorientated we broke our no taxi rule for a second time in four days and hitched a ride to our hotel, the Furadouro Spa.  The taxi dropped us off outside reception and we went inside to register where on account of a nippy wind coming in off the sea the staff were in thick jackets and expressed surprise that we were wearing our summer clothes when, in their opinion, it was so cold.  We explained about being from England and living on the North Sea East Coast.

After we had approved our accommodation and settled in, good but not as good as the last three in Lisbon, Tomar and Coimbra we stepped outside to take a look at Furadouro.  This didn’t take very long, but we found a restaurant that caught our eye for later on and a nice pavement bar to have a beer and then we made our way to the seafront.

There was a strong wind blowing, towering Atlantic breakers and red flags flapping furiously, rather unnecessary in my opinion because only a crazy person would go into a sea as mad as that.  Only half crazy we went into the sea but only up to our ankles with an occasional waist high splash and we walked the beach for about two miles or so.

Furaduero Beach Portugal

Portugal is famous for its Atlantic beaches which stretch for one thousand, one hundred and fifteen miles and along this coastline are three hundred Blue Flag Beaches which is the fifth highest amongst participating countries but looking at the statistics in a different way and dividing length of coastline by number of beaches, Portugal is way out in front and storms into first place with one blue flag every three and three-quarter miles.

It was certainly storming today and as we walked the salt spray splashed our clothes and the wind whipped sand stung our faces.

We could have walked forever along pristine sands between Sahara like dunes on one side and crashing waves on the other but eventually we reached an agreed point and with only more sand and surf stretching out before us as far as we could see we turned around and returned to Furadoura.  We hoped the sea might be calmer tomorrow and we might be able to go for a swim.

Later we found a back street fish restaurant overflowing with local people so on the basis that this is always a good sign we requested a table and had a first class meal for a very reasonable price and we agreed, as we always do, that we would come back tomorrow.  On the way out we attempted to book a table but the waiter told us they were closed now for an end of summer vacation.

We were having a lot of bad luck with restaurant closures in Portugal that was for sure!

Furadouro fish restaurant